“Shhhhhhh! Sito’s praying.” Sometimes I would be the one reprimanding my brother, or he would be the one telling me to lower my voice. The uttering of this sentence always corresponded with us playing video games in the living room. We would be nestled on the black polyester couch overflowing with its matching cushions, gripping our violet Nintendo GameCube controllers with competitive fervor. We were usually playing Super Smash Brother’s Melee when sito prayed.
We had an excellent cast of characters to choose from when we battled each other, but I remember often choosing Princess Zelda for her magical powers and silky pink dress. My brother alternated between Link, Mario, and Captain Falcon. In any case, all of these superheroes had to take a pause once sito pulled out her little black prayer rug, stitched in red and gold with the image of Mecca.
She would start quietly without telling us to stop what we were doing. She began by slipping on one of her gossamer scarves that appeared opaque at first glance, but shimmered softly when she turned toward rays of sun that crept in through the house’s white-paned windows. She covered her fine silver hair with it, fastened it in a loose knot under her chin.
Her perch was the paisley loveseat positioned perpendicular to our GameCube-designated sofa. This is where she liked to sit when she wasn’t in the kitchen preparing us food she had learned to make in her village in Lebanon over half a century ago. She would make the transition from silently observing us as we played to praying with very little fuss or ceremony. Sito’s mobility was limited by this stage in her life, so she prayed seated on the same loveseat rather than standing up and performing the prostrations. She had a tiny coffee table that she kept in front of her seat, and she would plop one of the flat sofa cushions over it, and then blanket this pillow with her prayer mat.
Her prayer instruments were not limited to a scarf and rug. She also had a string of beads, misbaha, and a small clay tablet, turbah. She would place the turbah on the center of the rug. Then she would start murmuring under her breath, words that my brother and I could not understand. She spoke Spanish to us, which she had picked up after decades of living in Caracas, but she would switch to the language of her first home when it came time to pray. She whispered the prayers she repeated everyday, which to my ears rang as magical incantations. I wondered innocently, What was sito bringing into the world with her mysterious words?
Every minute or so would bow her head down to the turbah in silence, then come back up and resume her stream of utterances, an outpouring of her love for the highest, the most merciful. When she finished, she would gently untie the knot and store her scarf under a sofa cushion, fold the rug and place it off the the side, remove the pillow that rested along the coffee table. She repeated this ritual several times a day, at least three, and oftentimes she met the divinely ordained number of five.
After prayer, she would resume her peaceful seated position, hands folded in front of her and the muscles of her face relaxed in serenity. She could spend hours like this, punctuating every sixty minutes with the flick of her prayer beads, all 99 of them corresponding with the names of Allah, which she invoked under her breath as she ran each bead through her fingers.
Meanwhile, my brother and I would realize that the coast was clear, that we we were allowed to be loud rambunctious children again. We would resume dueling at full volume, playfully shouting at each other when one of our avatars conquered the other. We did not really understand the meaning of sito’s observances. But we respected them.
I am older now, and sito left us three years ago. I still think about her pious devotion. I am still trying to understand what these sacred practices meant to her. I wonder if I should build my own grounding rituals, that maybe if I did, I could one day approximate sito’s humility, patience, and tranquil composure.
Two possessions I’ve kept with me since sito passed: one of her scarves, a string of her beads. They rest on my bookshelf as a reminder. Of her. To periodically pause, to be quiet and still every now and then, before coming back to life at full volume.